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 Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2001

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Among the tens of thousands of pages, Maguire opened a Pandora's Box of vernacular conversation of a kind that has never been heard or read before -- or had it?

London, Sunday, May 20, 2001

British Bugged German POW's -- Reveals Knowledge of Holocaust Widespread.

Jail small talk reveals Holocaust guilt

Banter between Nazi PoWs shows how much they knew about the death camps, reports Ed Vulliamy


They joked about Jewish women being sent to the gas chambers, or about taking 'pot shots' at Jews after a dinner party. Others cursed their Führer and described his inner circle as 'a loony bin'. They -- also lamented the fact that there would be no faithful wives or virgins left in Germany when they returned to their ravaged Fatherland.

These are the authentic voices of soldiers of the Third Reich: not as we are used to hearing them -- in memoirs or on trial -- but gossiping and chatting among themselves, in what must be the most remarkable bugging operation ever mounted by British intelligence.

Conversations among Nazi prisoners were secretly rec-orded by the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (UK), circulated to various intelligence agencies, including MI19 at the War Office, and then sent to Washington. The transcripts are now among a mass of CIA documents just declassified by the US National Archive, excavated by the American war crimes historian, Peter Maguire, and passed exclusively to The Observer .

When the documents were declassified a fortnight ago under the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, the mainstream American newspapers headed straight for a single headline-grabbing doctor's report [Prof. Sauerbruch] on Hitler's mental health, saying he was 'the craziest criminal the world ever knew'.

'We kind of knew that,' says Maguire, who had different motives for examining the documents, after the publication last month of his book Law and War, about the secret release of convicted Nazi war criminals under pressure from the US government.

He says: 'I was anxious to see if there was further evidence that the US had continued to recruit convicted Nazi war criminals for Cold War espionage during the Fifties. I wasn't even looking for World War II documents, and what I found bit me in the ass.'

Among the tens of thousands of pages, Maguire opened a Pandora's Box of vernacular conversation of a kind that has never been heard or read before.

Apart from their idiosyncrasies, the documents' historical importance lies in the extent to which knowledge of mass extermination was widespread, despite claims at repeated trials by leading figures of ignorance at what was happening in Auschwitz and Dachau. This affirmation cuts to the core of Daniel Goldhagen's classic book, Hitler's Willing Executioners .

On a tape recording from 22 April 1945, Vice-Admiral Utke asks the Commander of the Reich's North Sea fleet, Admiral Engel: 'Do you believe these stories about the camps?'

'Yes of course!' replies Engel. 'I've known myself for a long time it was like that. We were at Posen when that man [Himmler] told us how he killed the Jews. I can well remember how he said: "When I'm asked did you kill children as well? I can only reply I am not such a coward that I leave to my children a job which I can do myself".'

Engel concludes: 'Belsen and Buchenwald were no surprise to me.' Utke says: 'They are to me.' The admiral continues: 'But the average German knows it's like that. Haven't you heard about how the concentration camps were from the outside?... How the people had to run past the Standartenführer... It was the utter limit. Then we're surprised when the people here reproach us for it.'

The admiral recalls a remark by an SS colleague in a camp: 'Greiser told me: "Do you know that the coffee you're drinking cost me 32,000 Jewish women?!"' Utke asks: 'Where did they go?' The transcript continues: 'Engel: Where? To the incinerators probably (Laughs)'.

Some of the chatter recalls specific incidents in a conversational way never heard before. Lieutenant Heydte tells a story about a dinner party given by an SS friend called Böselager, after which the guests then 'drove out in a car and -- it sounds like a fairy tale but it's a fact -- shotguns were lying about and 30 Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to have a pot shot at a Jew'.

Others, like Lieutenant-General Kittel taped in late 1944, are apparently uneasy about some of things done their name or on their own orders, even though he believes that the Jews are the 'pest of the East' who should have been 'driven into one area'.

'In Upper Silesia,' says Kittel, 'they simply slaughtered people systematically. They were gassed in a big ball.'

But on another tape he describes in detail the mass execution of Jewish women and children in Latvia and elsewhere in the USSR. 'Everybody. Horrible!', he says. A Major-General Von Felbert asks: 'Were they loaded on to trains?' Kittel replies: 'If only they had been loaded into trains! The things I've experienced! In Latvia... along they came again -- men, women and children -- they were counted off and stripped naked; the executioners first laid all the clothes in one pile. Then 20 women had to take up their position -- naked -- on the edge of the trench, they were shot and fell down into it.'

Felbert asks: 'What did they do to the children?' The transcript reads: 'Kittel: (very excited): "They seized three-year-old children by the hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol and threw them in. I saw that for myself".'

On another tape, Kittel says: 'By the way, I'm going to hold my tongue about what I do know about these things.'

The British are in turn coy about their means of extracting this material. One transcript carries the note: 'If the information in this report is required for further distribution, prisoners' names should not be mentioned and the text paraphrased as to give no indication of the methods by which it was obtained.'

Maguire says: 'The British interrogators were much more sophisticated than the Americans. They would win their prisoners' trust with small gestures, good food' -- a point borne out by conversations between the Germans. 'I wonder how many of these officers thought they had kept a stiff upper lip under interrogation, only to have their private conversations taped! As evidence it's problematic because of the method, but as testimony it's remarkable -- moral guilt is not the same as legal guilt.'

The most senior prisoner taped is General von Thoma, one of Rommel's commanders in the Afrika Korps captured in 1942.

Between 18 and 19 May 1945, Thoma converses with the taped prisoner closest to Hitler's inner circle, Lt-Gen Kurt Dittmar. They discuss the Nazi high command: 'It must have been absolute torture for you,' chides Thoma, 'I always used to say: "Good old Dittmar, you can tell what he's feeling by the difficulty he has in getting his words out"... It seems to have become a loony-bin on wheels.'

Dittmar agrees, and goes on to talk about Josef Goebbels: 'Goebbels was... deliberately telling lies. His most intimate circle lied to him...'

But genuine disillusion runs deep among some officers. Lieutenant-General Schaefer laments, in November 1944, that 'one might think no one was really no longer bound to the Führer... I mean, when one goes over all the crimes committed, it makes one's hair stand on end... One can only think that if Germany is destroyed, it is justice and nothing else.'

In one conversation, the Germans wonder what has happened to their womenfolk. 'The ones [of us] who are married,' says one, 'can be quite certain that their wives have had relations with someone else, and those who are single are not likely to find a virgin over the age of 18 when they get home.'

Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001


This website reports:

OF COURSE, there is nothing new whatever about these top-secret CSDIC reports of the top-secret transcripts on senior Nazi prisoners' conversations. They have been open to diligent researchers in the British Public Record office since the early 1980s. Even before then David Irving had obtained genuinely exclusive access by various means to isolated copies of these valuable reports, and they are quoted in the 1977 edition of his book Hitler's War. In 1970 Harold Wilson's government considered prosecuting Mr Irving because of his use of these secret documents.

EvansMost other historians have remained totally ignorant of this resource. Asked about the CSDIC reports in the High Court, Deborah Lipstadt's "neutral" witness Prof. Richard Evans (right, fee: $200,000 plus $1m book contract) , who claimed to be an expert on the Third Reich, admitted on Day 22, February 17, 2000, page 84 [see the trial transcripts], that he knew nothing of their existence and had NEVER worked in these files!

IRVING: Are you familiar with these CSDIC reports? Have you worked with them in any detail?
EVANS: I have not, no.
IRVING: You have not?
IRVING: There is something like 50,000 pages of these overheard conversations with top Nazis and you never used them?
MR JUSTICE GRAY: Well, come on, Mr Irving, is that helpful?

In the mid 1980s David Irving secured formal HMSO permission to prepare an edited volume of the CSDIC reports for publication in German (they are Crown copyright).

It was the summer of 1993 before Mr Irving completed work on the selection and editing of these and of the Farm Hall transcripts -- hidden-microphone recordings of the German atomic scientists held in British captivity, for the release of which he had campaigned since 1967.

When Mr Irving delivered the completed manuscript to his German publisher Langen-Müller Verlag, of Munich, who had commissioned the book, they decided to his fury not to publish it (senior editor Rochus von Zabüsnig complained that it would look like "Nestbe-schmützung", as some of the overheard remarks by Nazi prisoners like General Walter Bruns revealed unwelcome details of atrocities). This work is now published on this website in PDF format as a free download, pending publication in a print edition.

Related items on this website:

 Free download of David Irving MS: Overheard
 Overheard conversation of General Walter Bruns
 Sauerbruch on Hitler
 US Veterans of another war recall Nazi interrogations at Fort Hunt, Virginia. Members of the P.O. Box 1142 program maintained decades of silence

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